2 MAY 2019

  • Lack of women candidates in local elections ‘puts councils behind the times’
  • Women make up just a third of those running
  • Fawcett calls for parties to take action

New data produced by the Fawcett Society and Democracy Club finds that more than 100 years since some women first won the vote, women’s representation in local government remains stuck in slow gear. 34% of the people running in the local elections on 2nd May are women, up just three percentage points on the last time that these councils went to the polls in 2015.

If the pace of change over the last two elections is maintained, it will take over 32 years and eight election cycles for women to achieve equality on these councils. In response, the Fawcett Society is calling for political parties to take urgent action by setting targets and a plan for change.

Change for each of the major parties was small. The proportion of Labour’s candidates who are women rose to 40% in 2019 from 37% in 2015, which was also an increase from 32% in 2011, suggesting an improving trend. The Conservative Party saw its proportion of women candidates rise to 30% in 2019 from 26% in 2015 – but in 2011, women made up 29% of their candidates. The Liberal Democrats saw no change, with 33% women in 2011 and 2019, and 32% in 2015.

The story for smaller parties is varied. The Green Party had 44% women, while UKIP had just 20%. Among the 2,686 independent candidates this year, which includes the Pirate Party and Church of the Militant Elvis as well as established independent councillors and residents’ groups who control a number of councils, 28% of candidates are women.

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, said:

“This lack of progress is shocking and puts councils squarely behind the times. We can’t wait more than three decades for women to play an equal part in local government.

“National attention may be focussed on Brexit, but without women on our councils, vital issues like care for older people, planning decisions, and council tax will continue to be decided by men.

With 80% of seats going to incumbents in previous elections, the space for change is limited. All of the parties need to set out their plan of action to change this – now.”

With earlier Fawcett research finding that just 4% of councils had a maternity leave policy, the charity has called for councils to take action to make the way they do business work for women. In response, the Local Government Association created a new ‘Twenty-first Century Councils’ toolkit, which Fawcett urges the new intake of councillors to use after May’s election.

Fawcett is also calling for the Government to take on the task of collecting comprehensive, accurate data on diversity at election times, to enable a better understanding of how women, ethnic minorities, disabled people and LGBT people are represented. The Government must implement section 106 of the Equality Act to achieve this aim.

Joe Mitchell, Democracy Club co-ordinator, said:

“Volunteers from Democracy Club have given hundreds of hours of their time to build this database of election candidates. Without this information, it would be impossible to monitor the state of our democracy. With better data, we can better understand the problems we face — and come up with solutions."

  • Fawcett Society analysis of last year’s elections found 97% of councils remained male dominated and there had been virtually no progress on women’s representation in local government, with the total proportion of female councillors at just 34%
  • The static picture on women's representation comes after the Fawcett Society and Local Government Information Unit’s 2017 Local Government Commission concluded that local government is 'not fit for the future', owing to a range of outdated practices and attitudes upholding barriers to equality. The Fawcett Society is calling for action from Government, political parties, and councils to make local government work for women.
  • Previous Fawcett analysis for the Commission found that 80% of council seats went to incumbents each year.

Download the press release here

Read more about our local government research here

For more information, infographics or interviews contact Fresh communication:

Abby Richardson – [email protected] / 07876 378 733
Nathalie Golden – [email protected] / 07769 66 66 27